by Bob Hart
EMPORIA — College can be a time of exciting new opportunities — and overwhelming new temptations.
Father Ray May, director of campus ministry at Emporia State University’s Didde Catholic Campus Center, sees the college experience as a sort of bridge for young men and women finding their way in life.
“You’re going from a child’s way of looking at the world to an adult’s way of looking at the world,” he said. “And it takes a while for your faith to catch up — for it to become an adult faith. Whenever there’s growth, it’s sometimes painful.”
Campus ministry can play a vital role, said Father May, in keeping the many Catholic students on campus involved in their faith as they navigate the sometimes stormy sea of transition.
“We have a number of students who never really go beyond the scope of the Mass. But what keeps them here is that they have a place where they can belong,” he said. “We have — what, 6,000 students here in Emporia? You can get lost in that.
“Here at the center, you have a closer-knit group that you do things with – some fun things, some more serious things. It’s also a place where, if you’re having a problem, you can find someone to talk to about it.”
Freedom and temptation
Out from under their parents’ roofs for the first time in their lives, many college students relish their newfound freedom, but may lack the life skills and experience to make wise choices.
Father May believes that in regard to drugs and alcohol, the college experience isn’t all that different from when he was a student 20 years ago.
Where he does see a change from his own undergraduate days (1984-88 at Benedictine College, Atchison) is in attitudes toward sex.
“I’m sure that casual sex went on when I was in college,” Father May said, “but I just get the sense that temptation is greater now, and that sex outside of marriage is taken a lot more lightly now. I don’t think casual sex was nearly as prevalent then.”
He admits, however, that it’s hard to know for sure, since “at Benedictine, everything is Catholic; the very environment is Catholic. That’s just the way things are — whereas here, you stand out. You are different.”
Many of his Emporia State students, however, are OK with that.
“There are real signs of hope,” Father May noted, “and I see that in the students here who really want to live the way the church teaches us we should live. You see that genuine awareness of how we are called to live in Christ, and that real desire to do that.”
“I’m encouraged by what I see,” he added. “I think the students here really try to avoid temptation.”
Helping hands from beyond campus
As he begins his fifth year at the Didde Catholic Campus Center, the director of campus ministry acknowledges some of the inevitable problems he’ll face with this year’s crop of students.
“A lot of them, they’ll get here, they’ll realize they’re free to do what they want, and they’ll stop going to church,” Father May said.
“And we’re not necessarily able to locate them. In this age of exaggerated secularism and extreme privacy, it’s hard for us to know who’s over there on campus,” he added. “And I don’t think the university is allowed to tell us. We just don’t have access to the information about all the Catholic students on campus.”
Parents can help.
“Many parents already do this, but so many more could help if they would just let us know that their young person is coming to the university,” he noted. “Even if they’re going to go home on the weekend for Mass, they’re still going to be here during the week, and we can be there for them then.”
Pastors can lend a hand as well.
“Again, many already do, but pastors could just encourage the young people not to give up on church,” Father May said. “Maybe it even helps to have some sort of group for college students. And to just appreciate the value of college ministry — that it’s there and it’s important when students need it.”
As a minister serving young people in an academic setting, perhaps it’s appropriate that one of Father May’s favorite quotes is from Albert Einstein: “God doesn’t play dice with the universe.”
“I don’t think Einstein was a particularly religious man,” he said, “but there’s great truth in that quote. Many of those students who drift away, who quit going to church . . . they’ll realize something is missing. And they’ll be back.”